The World Jamboree of Boy Scouts 1929

The Entrance to Arrow Park where the Jamboree was held.
From The Times of London, 1929


FOR some of us the memory of the War begins and ends with Boy Scouts. There recurs the vision of a hot dusty after noon of early August, 1914. Walking under a railway bridge that crosses a suburban common, we have come suddenly on a tent inhabited by half a dozen small Englishmen, grave, aloof, responsible, but not overweighed by their new importance Like so many thousand others, they had been preparing for a holiday camp when they were diverted to the direct service of the country; and now they are guarding the bridge, as they will continue to guard it for months and years. Then an echo rings in one’s head; it is the shrill reverberation of a Scout’s bugle sounding the "All Clear." which had become familiar to London after many an air raid and was now by a very British turn of symbolism announcing that the Armistice had been signed.

Those who recall these things will be thinking that, though the Boy Scouts are keeping their 21st birthday, they really came to manhood long ago when they were just six. Only seven years had gone, in 1914 since the Chief Scout had set up on Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, his experimental camp of 25; and by 1918 several of that little company were numbered with the 10,000 older Scouts who gave their lives. All these, however, with Jack Cornwall and the other Scout V.C.’s are but a heroic side issue. It was the mere boy guarding the bridges and the waterworks, or taking over from the coastguards their task of watchfulness by the sea, who earned so well the citizen’s report that, ever since, the movement has received due appreciation, mingled with some criticism from time to time, but safe from belittlement or contempt.

In the circumstances it was and is rather wonderful that the Scout should not put on airs. A small boy, temporarily aggrandized, can be very pompous indeed, as dreadful examples have proved. But these particular small boys are always showing how admirably they survive ordeals which sorely try the talents of other official fuglemen. They can control a crowd without so much as hinting by their behaviour that they would like to belabour it with their staves; and they can guide distinguished persons to the seats allotted them at a ceremony without betraying by a flick of an eyelid any undue consciousness of the privilege.


The grafting of the smaller graces on to a boy’s natural desire to be useful is part of the secret discovered by the Chief Scout from ancient Spartans, modern Zulus, and others he has met or read of in his large experience. If this divination of sources does not strike everybody as convincing, then we must fall back on the Chief Scout’s instructive and constructive knowledge of human character; which probably is as good an explanation as will ever be forthcoming. The springs of character, which were surely the sources of the movement, have been defined by one who in happier circumstances might himself have founded the Boy Scouts. "There never was a child (unless Master James)," says Robert Louis Stevenson, "but has hunted gold, and been a pirate, and a military commander, and a bandit on the mountains; but has fought, and suffered shipwreck and prison, and imbrued its little hands in gore, and gallantly retrieved the lost battle, and triumphantly protected innocence and beauty." The Master James of the exception was, of course, Stevenson’s good friend, Henry James, who cannot, indeed, by any stretch of fancy, be credited with a juvenile desire to imbrue his little hands in gore.

To the almost universal child Baden-Powell appealed by his experiment on Brownsea Island. The response was so great that in, three years the defender of Mafeking left the Army to devote his energies to holding up the ideal of backwoodsmen, knights, and explorers. All those figures of history and romance did not possess the same virtues; but when the sense of adventure is added to the capacity of resource, and endurance to the code of chivalry, there emerges a composite portrait which every decent, unspoilt boy would like to claim as his own, though, if he remain decent and unspoilt, he will never dream he has come anywhere near it.

The Privy Council of 1912 so highly appreciated the Chief Scout’s aims and methods that, as a result of their inquiry a Royal Charter of Incorporation was granted. But, while progress was being made in numbers and authority, a school of critics began to object that Boy Scouting was militarism in disguise. They still raise their voices, but a better understanding of Scout jurisprudence, not to speak of moral education, might turn these opponents into the strongest supporters of the system they fear.

When Stevenson’s tender irony inspired him to the passage we have quoted it was glancing at the foundations of the being man has inherited from the long line of his ancestors on earth. So Scottish a moralist would have been the last to deny that the worse along with the finer passions are represented in the child’s ambitions. But the child, like Ophelia, turns everything to favour and to prettiness.

American Scouts welcoming the German troop
on the latter’s arrival at Arrowe Park
From The Times of London, 1929


The Chief Scout, getting wisdom from babes, may have told himself that, if he could organize a corps which would be a practical transmutation of natural impulses, he would do good in his day and generation. His boys would loam the humor’s craft, but with one another for prey. Their cunning should be disciplined into alertness. Their mischief should be rendered innocuous by the provision of an object. For lack of adventurous opportunity they should be given the adventurous mind. Though destiny had prevented their "blocking Pantelican for Phidias" or being "borne with Raleigh to the West," it could not deprive them of neighbors and comrades to serve by a daily good turn. Why should not the factitious and evanescent desire to be pirates, military commanders, and bandits serve as an impulse to knight errantry of a modern kind in a modern world ? The whole underlying philosophy is that of beating swords into ploughshares—or wooden Staves. The military virtues it retains are loyalty, obedience, honour, and devotion.


By a jolly idealization of boyish impulses the movement has spread over the globe, where it now numbers 2,000,000 adherents. It assumes that in essence, one boy closely resembles another boy, just as William James discovered that there is very little difference between men. That very little difference, according to the Pragmatist, is doubtless highly important. It distinguishes the Chinese from the Frenchman, the Englishman from the Hottentot. The 60,000 Scouts who have come together at Arrowe Park, from 25 parts of the British Empire and 41 separate nations, are not about to accentuate their differences, however, but to improve their resemblance.

The clue that is the property of every one of them is their boyhood and their Scouthood—their human nature and their training. Presumably those chalk marks on pavements and palings which present such an enigma to grown-ups on suburban walks moan something to every one of the 50,000. If there be discrepancy in the interpretation, the alphabet, at any rate, is international. And few, very few, grown men can enter into that hieroglyphical land of the spirit. But, then, 50,000 grown men from 66 regions have never attempted to live together for a fortnight, heedless of tariffs, unmindful of past quarrels, concentrated on the moment, keen for healthy pleasure, swayed by a single rule, bound together by the same principles. When some Chief Scout does succeed in arranging such a gathering, what a Jamboree it will be! What a Grand Howl will rise to the heavens! And how utter may be the subsequent Peace!

The Chief Scout with Lieutenant-Colonel Granville Walton
(honorary organizing secretary), left, and Brigadier-General
Godfrey-Fausett (Jamboree Camp Chief), right.
From The Times of London, 1929

Arrowe Park, July 31, 1929

Reprinted from The Times, London, 1929

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